Saturday, September 20, 2008

TODAY'S TWD - CRAZY 88: A BIRTHDAY REMEMBRANCE

Jay Ward was born on this date in 1920. He passed away from liver cancer in 1989. And for more about his life in between, I'll turn it over to my old pal Wiki J. Pedia:

J Troplong "Jay" Ward (September 20, 1920 – October 12, 1989) was an American creator and producer of animated television cartoons. He is known for producing animated series based on characters such as Crusader Rabbit, Rocky & Bullwinkle, Dudley Do-Right, Peabody and Sherman, Hoppity Hooper, George of the Jungle, Tom Slick and Super Chicken. His company, Jay Ward Productions, also designed the trademark characters for Cap'n Crunch, Quisp and Quake breakfast cereals and made commercials for those products, among others. Ward produced the non-animated 'Fractured Flickers' series that featured comedy redubbing of silent films.


Jay Ward was married to Ramona "Billie" Ward. He had three children: Ron, Carey, and Tiffany.

Ward moved into the infant medium of television with the help of his childhood friend, animator Alex Anderson. Anderson was the nephew of Terrytoons founder Paul Terry, and had unsuccessfully tried to sell Terry a concept for a cartoon series made specifically for the new medium. Together, Ward and Anderson took the character, Crusader Rabbit, to NBC and pioneering TV-program distributor Jerry Fairbanks. They put together a pilot film, 'The Comic Strips of Television', featuring Crusader; a parody of Sherlock Holmes named "Hamhock Bones"; and a bumbling Mountie named Dudley Do-Right.

NBC and Fairbanks were unimpressed with all but Crusader Rabbit (though Dudley would make his appearance, finally, 10 years later). Crusader Rabbit premiered in 1949 and ended its initial run in 1952. Adopting a serialized, mock-melodrama format, the series followed the adventures of Crusader and his dimwitted sidekick Rags the tiger. It was, in form and content, much like the series that would later gain Ward fame, 'Rocky and His Friends'.

Ward and Anderson, through a series of legal maneuvers against them, lost the rights to the character, and a new color Crusader series under a different producer premiered in 1956. An unsold series idea from his Crusader Rabbit days would eventually earn Ward a permanent place in animation history. Taking place in a TV studio in the North Woods, the series featured a cast of eccentrics such as newsman Oski Bear and two minor characters named Rocky the Flying Squirrel and Bullwinkle, described in the script treatment as a "French-Canadian moose." This was the genesis of what would become 'Rocky and His Friends' and later, 'The Bullwinkle Show', when NBC gave Rocky's sidekick top billing.

Premiering on ABC in 1959 (and moving to NBC two years later) the series reached a level of sophistication in its humor rarely seen in cartoons before. Thanks to Ward's genial partner Bill Scott (who contributed to the scripts and voiced Bullwinkle and other characters) and a corps of top comedy writers, puns reached new heights (or depths) of shamelessness: in a "Fractured Fairy Tales" featuring Little Jack Horner, upon pulling out the plum, Jack announced, "Lord, what foods these morsels be!"

Jay Ward is seen here on the right, with Bill Scott
and an unidentified kids' show host in the center.

Self-referential humor was another trademark: in one episode, the breathless announcer (played by William Conrad) gave away the villain's plans, prompting the villain to grab the announcer from offscreen, bind and gag him, and deposit him visibly within the scene. It skewered popular culture mercilessly, taking on such subjects as advertising, college sports, the Cold War, and television itself. The hapless duo from Frostbite Falls, Minnesota, blundered into unlikely adventures much as Crusader and Rags had before them, pursued by "no-goodnik" spies Boris Badenov and Natasha Fatale, perennially under orders to "keel moose and squirrel."

The segments were serialized, generally ending with a cliff-hanging peril; the announcer would urge the viewer to "tune in next time" for the next adventure, featuring two dreadful puns in the titles, like "Mine Eyes Have Seen the Gory, or Moose's in the Cold, Cold Ground" and "When a Felon Needs a Friend, or Pantomime Quisling," or "Portrait of a Moose, or Bullwinkle Gets Framed."

In a running joke tribute to Jay Ward, many of his cartoon characters had the middle initial "J.", presumably standing for "Jay" (although this was never stated explicitly). One contributor to this entry wrote to Jay Ward in 1961 and asked him what the J stood for in Rocket J. Squirrel and Bullwinkle J. Moose. Ward wrote back that the J stood for George. The cartoonist, Matt Groening, later gave the middle initial "J." to many of his characters as a tribute to Jay Ward.

In 2000, he was recognized with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, paid for as part of the publicity for the live-action and animation film "The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle".

Of course, that entry was a bit too dry to serve as a fitting tribute to Jay Ward, so let me steer you to three other sites:

TOONOPEDIA

TOON TRACKER

ROCKY AND BULLWINKLE

And from those you'll find plenty of other links to specific characters in the Jay Ward gallery.

Jay Ward would have been 88 today. Rocky, Bullwinkle, and all their friends are ageless.

BCnU!
Toby O'B

1 comment:

Mercurie said...

You know, I think in the end Jay Way Ward may have been the most influential television producer of cartoons of all time, even more than Hanna and Barbera.